Usually, it’s easy to live and let live with family movies; these films are for children and are often blandly bad (or merely okay) in a way that’s not really worth dissecting. Frankly, I wish that was the case with Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers. A bland and inoffensive experience would be preferable to this: a film that is not only actively bad but that is built around a really disturbing philosophical core.
The initial terribleness is obvious from the get go. When the film starts, we realise we are in a Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)-style feature (though, the word style should not be used near Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers). This is a live-action film where cartoons also exist, this time in a variety of styles and from a staggering variety of properties. This is the lingering after-effects of what Ready Player One (2018) wrought onto this world: marketing deals and IP portfolios disguised as films. But, dare I say, at least Steven Spielberg can make a visually competent film, or at least serviceable. Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers is ugly as sin. It is a mess of conflicting art styles, inherently so, because it is pulling in a range of characters. That’s fine (even if this whole premise is objectionable) but then the film actually adds to this.
Our first views of Chip and (‘n, I guess) Dale are sobering. The designs for this film are digital 2D made to look like hand drawn 2D, and often made to look somewhat three-dimensional, in the belief that this will help them interact more with the live-action space. There’s an odd roundness to everything, a bland smoothness that is reminiscent of a PlayStation 2 DragonBall Z game that tries to make Goku 2D in 3D. It may be impressive in a game, it’s just visually weird here. The characters just look wrong, and soulless. They are also so poorly implemented into the actual world. 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit looks so much better than this. Not only are the character designs a problem, so is the lighting. No animated element looks like it is actually in the real world, they just limply lay on top of the screen, awkwardly clashing with everything else. This continues throughout and the film even finds new art styles to not manage to blend in to the wider world.
The real issue with the film, though, is from its narrative and its messaging. First of all, the very barebones detective framework (Monterey Jack goes missing and Chip ‘n Dale are going to be detectives) only exists because Roger Rabbit did that. The film finds nothing to really do with this apart from running into a bunch of moral issues. The film’s central conceit is about the sanctity of intellectual property. It is about the projected need to safeguard franchises, and it is so blatantly about this. The film is just this mess of IP bloat, just a display of “look what corporate mergers have allowed us,” and then it has the gall to make so much of its background gags a mocking of this concept. The nadir of this is when there is an in-universe film called Batman vs. E.T., and how this is mocked by the characters in the film as a death of creativity — which doesn’t work when the film you’re watching is just a thinly stitched together collage of references. And they don’t even make sense, much like Batman vs. E.T. There’s a sequence early on about a seedy street, where seemingly nice and wholesome characters run fronts. The joke is the juxtaposition, you wouldn’t expect this character doing that! How shocking. But, in this sequence, we also have a R. Crumb character making a cameo. This by itself is bizarre and feels wrong, but the inclusion of this character actually exists in opposition to the joke being made.
Jokes that don’t work are the norm here, though. The writing is just so flat. It throws out so much and nothing hits. This isn’t helped by the two central vocal performances bringing very little. John Mulaney is especially bad. The voice work is genuinely horizontal; it’s a lifeless vocal turn but one very much encouraged by the lifeless material that he is working with. The thing about the jokes, though, is that they move from just blandly unfunny into actively irritating. This film feels the need to lampshade and overly explain everything. We can’t just enter an area called the Uncanny Valley that houses characters from Cats (2019), the characters have to point out what the place is called and then explain what the concept means. This trope of making the joke and then explaining it just keeps coming back. It’s always awful.
The commitment to explaining jokes is made even more egregious by the film itself not making sense. We are in a world where cartoon characters, and the like, are presented as real things that merely acted in the works we know them from. Yet, they have the exact skills and personalities of the things they are from. They are, at the same time, actors who play the characters and just the characters themselves. About eighty minutes into the film, a character makes a joke about this, how it’s strange that their personality is the same as the character they played. Not only does it make no sense, it knows it makes no sense and doesn’t care. It even jokes about it. For another example of nonsense, the opening takes us to a sad convention of washed up cartoons and characters. For some reason, Lumiere is there. Lumiere is presented as a failure and as desperate, for no discernible reason. It also pulls the whole concept into question. Seeing as it is literally about everything being an actor, of course something as specialised as Lumiere isn’t in anything else, it’s amazing they existed to be cast in Beauty and the Beast (1991) to begin with. It is just such lazy worldbuilding, a rough sketch of a concept that actually doesn’t make sense, and that nobody involved seems to care about.
And then there’s the genuinely insidious stuff. This film builds its narrative around bootlegging, an odd focus in general. It goes on to set up a framework in which people using these characters actively harms them (a wider comment on fair use and fan interaction with art). When people do their own versions of owned characters, they destroy the previous one, or at least replace it. This causes suffering and needs to be stopped. It is just naked propaganda for Disney’s draconian IP protection, and artificial scarcity strategies like The Vault. Additionally, the villain of the film has an arc that co-opts the tragic life story of an actual voice actor whose treatment by Disney was part of this tragedy. The imagery used specifically links to their situation and it genuinely just feels grotesque.
That’s Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers. It is an uninspired exercise in pure hypocrisy that is further brought down by ugly visuals and a clunker of a script. It is a film that should be fine, perhaps even good, and then ends up being ideologically disturbing. Disney is now just making films about itself. It is now parading the fact that they are slowly owning all of popular culture and can do whatever they want with it, and this film wants you to think it is a good thing. This film thinks we are dumb enough to just laugh along, smiling because we see things that we know.